Federal judge approves Koppers agreement


This file photo is an aerial shot looking west of the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site.

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Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.

Thirty years after the Koppers wood treatment plant was listed as a Superfund site, the contested cleanup plan for the property is moving ahead.

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This file photo is an aerial shot looking west of the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site.

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On Tuesday, a federal judge in Panama City approved the agreement, known as a consent decree, that implements the remediation plan for the contaminated former wood treatment plant and polluted off-site yards.

For nearly a century, a wood treatment plant operated on the Koppers property, which spans 90 acres north of the 200 block of Northwest 23rd Avenue.

The judge's acceptance of the three-party agreement between the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Beazer East Inc. — a former operator of the plant and the company legally responsible for the cleanup — means the removal of contaminated soils from dozens of residential yards in the Stephen Foster neighborhood might begin by January.

Where homeowners give legal consent, the cleanup will include the removal and replacement of up to one foot of soil from yards where lab tests show the presence of the carcinogen dioxin at levels above seven parts per trillion. New landscaping then will be planted.

The work will focus on the residential area north of Northwest 26th Avenue, south of Northwest 33rd Avenue and east of Northwest Sixth Street.

In late May, a contractor hired by Beazer East said 66 properties were eligible for cleanup and another 24 were still under evaluation.

The consent decree details obligations Beazer East will have in seeing through the cleanup plan and the penalties the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may impose on the company for failure to meet those obligations. Those penalties range from $500 a day up to $10 million if the EPA has to take over the project.

Substantial feedback — about 80 pages — submitted during the public comment period on the consent decree focused primarily on the details of the cleanup plan, or record of decision.

Many comments from residents and county and city government pushed for a plan that would buy up homes near the plant and relocate residents.

"As part of the consent decree, Beezer should be responsible for purchasing homes that lie within the 7 ppt (parts per trillion) contaminated zone near the Superfund site," Bob Palmer, the chairman of the county's Environmental Protection Advisory Board, wrote in one comment. "It is clear to me that Beezer was let off this hook only because EPA doesn't want to set a precedent that might be extended to homes near other Superfund sites. But this is a poor rationale for not proceeding with home purchases in Gainesville."

In a response to public comments, Cheryl Smout, a DOJ attorney, said permanent relocation was an option utilized only once out of 244 Superfund sites in the EPA Southeast Region.

"Based on low concentrations of contaminants in surface soil at surrounding residences and the practical remedial alternatives that exist for preventing exposure to these soils, relocation is not warranted," Smout wrote.

Public comment submitted on the consent decree also restated opposition to the plan for consolidating contaminated soils, including those removed from adjacent properties, in a capped on-site subterranean containment area surrounded by a slurry wall. The common concern was that the contamination would leach into the aquifer and threaten groundwater.

Smout wrote that the DOJ and EPA concluded that "there is little risk that the contaminated soil and sediments at the Site, once solidified and encased in a subterranean wall descending 65 feet below land-surface to the top of the Middle Hawthorne Aquifer, will be able to leach further contamination into the groundwater."

Smout also wrote that an existing system to pump and treat groundwater at the Koppers site was a line of defense against the flow of contaminants.

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